What happens when Dynasty meets Honey BooBoo, they have a baby, and that baby is raised by Charlie’s Angels? You get TIARA TROUBLE, a bedazzled cozy mystery full of gritty glitz.
One foreign policy question five years ago sent Destinee Faith Miller’s dreams of being Miss American Universe up in flames and landed her back in her hometown of Phenix City, Alabama, with her tail between her legs. But like the mythological bird that her hometown is misspelled after, she rose from the ashes to create Destinee’s Dolls, a thriving pageant consulting business knee-deep in pink, prints and tulle.
A death at the local level of a national event lands her the job of pageant emcee, and Destinee dares to dream of bigger things—maybe even a reality TV show! But when judges start dropping like flies, she has her hands full keeping herself alive long enough to see those dreams come true. Contending with catfights, car bombs, and the camouflage-colored funeral of a redneck’s dream, Destinee gets a little help from her friends, family, and a pit bull named Clarabelle.
The competition for the Miss Alabama American Universe title that would lead to a shot at the Miss American Universe event had been fierce. It came down to a real battle between Tonielle West, the sleek, elegant brunette representing Auburn, and Deenie Paul, the busty, bubbly blonde from Huntsville. When the final moment came down, the two of them standing there holding hands, grinning at each other, and whispering words of encouragement as they waited for the emcee to read the name of the winner, we were all holding our breath.
Personally, I was torn. I thought Tonielle’s beauty and interview had been the best, but Deenie had knocked it out of the park in swimsuit and talent. For me, it came down to the fact that our family Rolls Tide, so I just could not in good conscience root for anyone from Auburn—whether she went to school there, or not. For the record, she did.
Drums rolled for what seemed like minutes, and the tension built until the emcee opened the envelope and said, “Your new Miss Alabama American Universe is,” he paused again, causing Tonielle and Deenie to crunch up their shoulders and clutch hands even tighter, “Miss Auburn American Universe, Tonielle West!”
Both women screamed, hugged each other, and stayed there together for a moment, but then Judy Clawson, the current reigning queen, and I stepped up to draw Tonielle away into her own solo spotlight. I was a bit disappointed at the outcome, but not nearly so much as Deenie Paul was. Deenie clung to her victor’s arms, seemingly unable to believe Tonielle had won. In fact, I had to pry one of Deenie’s hands off Tonielle’s bicep, and the emcee had to help pull her backwards so that a junior girl could shove the First Runner Up trophy into her hands.
I had one eye on Deenie as I handed Tonielle her bouquet, and I couldn’t help thinking that the way she was looking between her trophy and the back of Tonielle’s head boded no good. It looked an awful lot like she might be thinking it was heavy enough to do some serious damage to her rival’s skull. But violence was avoided for the moment and Tonielle took her winner’s walk down the runway. Finally, after all the photos were snapped, short interviews were given, and autographs were signed, we were on our way back to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Birmingham, the official hotel of the Miss Alabama American Universe pageant.
It was a short ride, and we arrived just after the bus dropping off all the pageant contestants was pulling away, so we entered the lobby to a rowdy group of young women in sequins, sashes, and sky-high heels, toasting one another with champagne—a few of them drinking straight from big, green bottles. Everyone was happy and cheerful, as most girls are after the stress of an event like that is over with, and the after party was in full swing only moments after we’d all gotten inside.
Girls crowded around Tonielle. Every one of the fifty losing contestants came over to offer their congratulations and make over her crown, her sash, her trophy, and her bouquet, fairly smothering her with tipsy affections until the pageant handlers eased a throughway so she could pass all the way inside the lobby.
I saw Deenie Paul in the crowd and thought she looked especially happy, her lips turned up in grinchy glee, as she buttered a roll she’d grabbed up from a catering tray nearby. I thought she might just be excited to eat a carbohydrate, as those are verboten during pageant events—no one wants to be puffy for her close-up—but then I saw that she was watching our new reigning Miss like a hawk.
An official pageant photographer asked Tonielle to climb up the wide, white granite steps that led up to the second floor conference area. He wanted to get a few shots of her alone, before having the other girls crowd in to fill the stairwell for a group shot. Tonielle made it up the steep staircase, holding on to the chrome-plated rail. She had a funny look on her face when she got to the top, and I realized she was having trouble walking. I was trying to figure out if the trouble was her shoes, or how tight her evening gown fit her, when she did a little shuffle with her feet. Her arms flew out to either side and she started flailing.
It wasn’t a second before she was falling backwards, crumbling and tumbling. She didn’t even have time to scream before her head hit the edge of that first stone step with a horrible crunch, and then
about every other one on her way down, leaving splashes and slashes of crimson on the light granite
stairs and the glass partitioning along the rails.
When she finally landed at the foot of the stairs, her limbs were akimbo, and her head was tilted at
an angle far too square to her shoulders. Her mouth was twisted and eyes were wide and staring up as though mortified by the splatters of blood that painted the gowns and faces of the beauty queens
crowded around her. For a moment it was absolutely silent. It was so quiet you could hear the false
eyelashes batting, as the gathered girls blinked, squinted and tried to make sense of what they’d just seen. Then, one girl started to scream and that set off the rest of them like car alarms in a parking lot.
Deenie Paul put down her roll, daintily wiped the corners of her mouth with a cocktail napkin, and
strode over; bending to pick up the crown that had bounced off Tonielle’s head, somewhere halfway
down the stairs. She considered it, turning it over in her hands twice before using her thumb to wipe
away a smear of blood. Then, she put it right on top of her hairdo, whipping out a bobby pin from her chignon to hold it in place. That done, she walked back over to where she’d been standing. She
noticed me gaping at her, looked me in the eye and grinned. Then, she picked up her roll again and
licked it right down the center, her tongue coming away yellow before disappearing back into her
Lane Buckman is a former beauty queen from Phenix City, Alabama. Growing up, she wanted to be Miss America, a criminal lawyer, a super model, the President, a Bond girl, a brain surgeon, a journalist, a back-up singer for Duran Duran, and a college professor of Medieval Literature. In order to fulfill those dreams, she became a writer. She lives in Texas with her family, and enjoys every miserably hot second of it.
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